On 7 December 2017, Cllr Pam Doodes officially opened the newly refurbished studio
We were honoured to receive a visit from Heathfield, Battle and Hastings MP, Huw Merriman on 20 July 2018
On 5 July 2019, Violet Hancock, High Sherrif of East Sussex, paid a visit to our studio to celebrate the 30th Anniversary of Richard's Audio Magazine
Wealden Talking News meets East Sussex Vision Support at the 2022 'Women of the Year Lunch'.
From left to right: Dianne Steele, Maggie Grinyer & Sue
The High Sheriff of East Sussex, Jane King visited the studio on 28 October 2022 to congratulate us on receiving the Queen's Award for Voluntary Service in June of this year
Alan Cook (Chairman) Thanks the Worshipful Masters of Tilsmore, Wadhurst and Heffle Mark Masonic Lodges and Sussex Masonic Giving for their generous donation funding our new duplicator, on Friday 8 September 2023.
The Story of Wealden Talking News
The Beginning of the Talking News Movement
Ronald Sturt, a librarian from Wales is credited with bringing Talking Newspapers to the UK after a visit to Sweden when he was greatly impressed with the new cassette news service to the blind and partially sighted. He returned to Aberystwyth where he produced the first news tape in 1970.
An important factor giving rise to the Talking Newspaper movement was the invention, in the late 1960’s of a small tape recorder which used cassette tapes. This made it cheap and fairly simple to provide a news service to blind people. The Government assisted by introducing regulations making such services free of postage and local newspapers allowed their copy to be used without charge.
Heathfield & District Talking News Association
Charities soon sprang up all over the country and Doris Boston, who was on the committee of the Hailsham Care Group, part of East Sussex Association for the Blind (ESAB), joined forces with Roger Payne to seek funding for the first Talking News in East Sussex. They applied to the Lions Club and were given £1,500 to buy basic equipment and more importantly, met and inspired Lions member Ted Davis who was to carry the Talking News forward in huge strides.
It was recorded that by 3rd September 1975, the Heathfield & District Talking News Association committee was formed of:
Ted Davis – Chairman & Editor in Chief
Margaret Pitman – Secretary
Roger Payne – Treasurer
Kathleen Davis – Magazine Editor
John Jarvis & Reg Payne – blind listeners
Nigel Jarrett & Patrick Murray – Press Representatives
Audrey Payne & Dennis McCullock – ordinary members of the public
Gordon Fogg– President of the Lions Club
Heathfield and District Talking Newspaper Association (HTNA) issued its first news tape on 31st October 1975.
At its inception, HDTNA produced 90 minute cassettes weekly. The TN had, in its first year to September 1976, registered as a charity, installed and paid for all the equipment for recording and copying, and supplied over 130 cassette recorders to blind listeners. It had also enlisted Cyril Fletcher among its volunteers. During the year the HQ was shifted from the home of Kathleen and Ted Davis at Woodhatch, High St. Heathfield to a caravan in Ted’s garden, which was stripped and refitted to provide a permanent home for the editing, copying and office work.
Very soon up to 200 tapes were created each week and sent out to blind and partially-sighted people across the Wealden area. One edition was produced with the Courier being read in full first and followed by the Sussex Express. A magazine was also produced and featured cookery, gardening, music, radio and natural history. Interviews were conducted and actor, Cyril Fletcher gave a 3 minute talk every week. At that time the TN used Wollensak fast cassette copiers.
A different facet of Heathfield life was that a coachload of listeners were taken to the Tate Exhibition of sculpture for the blind.
The production and editing continued to take place in the caravan by Hazel & Jack Mitchell and Jay Lush, and the recording was done in Ted Davis’s dining room. In 1976, Ted met Dorothy & Wayne Bottje and they quickly became involved to be described as ‘Head Slaves’ for the next 10 years. At that time there were 60 – 70 volunteers. In 1994 (1,000th issue) there were between 250 and 300 listeners.
Ted, however, had higher ambitions……
TALKING News Association of the United Kingdom
The success of the Talking Newspaper concept led Ted Davies to envisage a national operation, to cover not only news, but also magazines and other publications. This led eventually to a split of the local organisation, and the formation in 1983 of the Talking Newspaper of the United Kingdom (TNAUK), also based in Heathfield.
In 2013, TNAUK, were taken over by the RNIB (Royal National Institute for the Blind) and very sadly, obliged to close its Heathfield operation in 2016, due to the decline in finances and listener numbers. A new studio was set up in Peterborough frequently making use of computer generated voices and the list of publications offered severely restricted.
HTNA becomes Wealden Talking News
HTNA continued to produce local news under the direction of Bob Slattery (Chairman) with Wayne and Dorothy Bottje, and new premises were found above the Oxfam shop in Heathfield, 68a High Street, in 1992.
In 1993, Derrick Trueman joined as an editor and quickly realised that HTNA would benefit from more business-like method. He put in place a number of improvements. The Rules of Association were revised at the 1992 AGM and later the name changed to the Wealden Talking News in November 1995. The 1998 AGM further revised the Rules incorporate the change of name. At the same time the output expanded to include separate magazine tapes, produced and edited by blind listener, Richard Foster.
Shortly afterwards WTN moved to its present premises in Cherwell Road and in 2007 when Derrick retired, the leadership was taken on by Mike Snatt.
When cassette tapes began to give way to CDs, WTN held off, and their confidence proved to be spot on, as the next upgrade to the technology, the memory stick, came along at a point when the funds were sufficient to allow tapes to be abandoned completely. Not only was it possible to equip the studio with the hardware to produce the sticks, but they were also able to supply every listener with a player.
WTN - The present day
The advent of new technology has to some extent reduced the attraction of the Talking Newspaper and together with local newspapers declining and advances in ophthalmic surgery and treatment, the news listener numbers had now fallen to around 120.
WTN were however, evolving to the next stage in the history of the Talking Newspaper with the first edition of the WTN being published online on the website on Friday 28th April 2017.
Today the mantle is carried, by the chairman of trustees John Clemence who, with Studio Manager, Dianne Steele, oversaw an army of over 70 loyal volunteers and nine trustees. The generous support of the Lions continued through Uckfield & District Lions Club.
Sussex wide Publications
The discontinuing of many of the RNIB publications and the Lottery funding that enabled a full studio refit in 2017 resulted in an exciting new initiative in the history of WTN. At that time listener numbers were declining reflecting the national trend. WTN inherited several 'polished' readers from the recently closed national talking news service that was also based in Heathfield. The result was Sussex-wide Publications (SWP) a new magazine service to listeners across both East & West Sussex.
In October 2017 the first edition of Sussex Life was published and Sussex Living (then Magnet) was added in December 2017. On Thursday 19 July 2018 the first Sussex-wide magazine sticks were published and sent to 12 listeners across Sussex.
SWP publications currently includes, Sussex Life and Saga Magazines, People’s Friend and their own compilation Listeners’ Sussex which features Sussex history, wildlife, listeners’ letters, poetry and a wealth of other articles of special interest to the sight impaired. Plans are afoot to cater for a wider diversity of interests and listener numbers reached 100 in 2019 due to the hard work and enthusiasm of the dedicated committee of volunteers, and trustees.
The SWP initiative was thought to mark a new era in Local Talking News Associations, being the first to start the move into county wide publications of mainstream magazines, without cost to the recipients. Once again, WTN spearheads change to widen the horizons of those whose lives are restricted by visual impairment.
WTN in time of pandemic
When the country locked down in March 2020 with just a few days warning, WTN trustees moved quickly to implement a new system to ensure that the vital service was continued. Dedicated editors, Pat Harwood and Heather Halit took it in turns to undertake the work of the whole team of five editors on their own, every Friday morning. By lunch time scripts were available and readers that were able to record on their smartphones collected the scripts to record in the afternoon. Detailed instructions were issued on how to create a studio in your home and apart from a few extraneous noises, Mike Hollis (Technical Manager) declared the recordings to be a ‘pretty good’ standard. On Saturday morning, recording engineers, Mike Hollis and Di Steele took it in turns to collate the recorded tracks received by email into the studio. These were converted from M4a to MP3 and transferred to the regular news format. On Sunday a single copier came into the studio to duplicate the sticks and fill the wallets adhering closely to the risk assessment so that listeners could be reassured that their sticks represented no risk of bringing Covid 19.
All this was achieved with a few days’ notice and WTN are proud to say that they are thought to be one of only seven TN’s in the UK to continue their news service without interruption.
At the same time a telephone ‘buddy’ service was started and reader Sheila Woolcott and other volunteers spent many hours on the phone to listeners who were no longer able to receive visitors. WTN received many grateful letters of thanks from the listeners whose sole source of companionship was Wealden Talking News during the 15 months of restrictions. To people whose visual impairment caused isolation, the pandemic doubled the effects of isolation and sadly, with no clinic referrals, listener numbers dropped once again.
Wealden Talking News was thrilled to receive the Queen's Award for Voluntary Service in June 2022. The award was presented by Andrew Blackman, Lord Lieutenant of East Sussex on 31 August 2022 at Etchingham Village Hall.
The occasion was celebrated by around 70 volunteers, MP Hugh Merriman, High Sheriff, Jane King, Vice Lord Lieutenant, Sarah Stonor and many distinguished guests and friends.
On 14 June 2023, Chairman John Clemence, retired after 25yrs and was replaced by Alan Cook who brings his vision of the way forward for WTN.